(From Reuters)

A top ranked Chinese official began a rare visit to Hong Kong on Tuesday vowing to listen to residents’ political concerns, seeking to address increasingly strident calls in the city for greater autonomy or even independence from the mainland.

A yellow banner bearing the words “I want genuine universal suffrage” was unfurled on a hill early Tuesday (May 17) by pro-democracy activists

The visit by Zhang Dejiang, the first by a senior Chinese figure since the 2014 Occupy democracy protests, was officially to attend an economic summit.

However, his first comments addressed the hot button political issue of Hong Kong’s relationship with China, a topic that has sparked fierce debate in the Asian financial hub.

“(I will listen to) all sectors of society’s suggestions and demands on how…the country and Hong Kong should develop,” Zhang told reporters at Hong Kong airport.

Tensions in the city are high, with thousands police mobilized for Zhang’s visit.

Local media reported pavement bricks were being glued down to quell the prospect of violent protests while police were camping atop a mountain where a pro-democracy banner was hung two years ago.

A banner demanding “true universal suffrage” was hung on a different mountaintop on Tuesday morning.

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